Many of the world's most important movements and organizations are born from very modest circumstances. United Way is a case in point.
In 1887, a Denver woman, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi joined forces to raise funds for local charities and coordinate relief services. This group would kick-start a movement that would expand across the country and eventually the globe. Chicago's own United Way history begins in the Great Depression when watching their fellow citizens struggle to survive, a small community of business people from the Chicago Association of Commerce gathered to help those in deep poverty.
That committee, led by Edward L. Ryerson, Jr., president of a leading metals manufacturing company, would be the foundation and formal beginning of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago (UWMC).
Over the next 80 years, UWMC has advanced the common good by providing the necessary social services to meet the acute needs of the community. It has raised hundreds of millions of dollars and mobilized hundreds of thousands of volunteers. By 1973, Chicago became the largest fundraising entity in the United Way system.
The past decade has seen a restructuring of how UWMC operates: 54 United Way entities have merged under one umbrella with a support system that includes North Shore United Way, Northwest Suburban United Way, United Way of DuPage/West Cook and South-Southwest Suburban United Way. The organization has also increased its accountability, measuring results and tracking their progress.
"Being part of the United Way network of non-profits has been vital to the success of Jumpstart Chicago and many other organizations like ours. It adds credibility in the communities that we serve and among foundation and business leaders that we want to engage in our mission. No one person or entity can do it alone, and it has been refreshing to share that view with United Way of Metropolitan Chicago," says Karina Kelly, executive director of Jumpstart Chicago.
Its objective is to change the odds for children and families by focusing on the building blocks to self-sufficiency: education, income and health.
"Raising funds remains a key part of what we do. But the true measure of success is what we do with those funds, who we partner with and how effective we are at uplifting the lives of those we serve," says Wendy DuBoe, president and CEO of UWMC. "While our mission has remained the same, we have sharpened our focus to ensure that our resources are truly transformative. This means mobilizing all our assets; funding, volunteers, legislative advocacy, technology, in-kind resources and corporate partnerships to deliver measurable results."
United Way is now a global symbol of community service, and was recently ranked 26th in Forbes' World's Most Valuable Brands.
"That we are recognized on such a list of global brands is a testament to the effectiveness and stability of this 125 year organization," says Anna Clarke, vice president of marketing and engagement at UWMC. "Nobrand can achieve this kind of pervasive public awareness unless it has an impact and relevance to millions of people."